Girl with kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fascinating, whether you've used them for years or it's your very first time. No matter how often you use them, you'll never see the exact same image twice.


Remember the first time someone handed you a kaleidoscope and invited you to look inside? You may have heard a rattling in the far end of the brightly-colored cardboard tube as you lifted it to your eye like a spyglass. Perhaps you were skeptical, but when you peered in, you were amazed by the burst of color and intricate design at the other end. No matter how long you played with that fascinating device, or how many times you turned or shook the end, you never saw the exact same pattern twice.

Generations of people over the past two centuries have shared this experience, but none have ever viewed identical images. Perhaps it's part of the appeal of the kaleidoscope that such a low-tech device can create a never-ending array of beautiful -- sometimes breathtaking -- art. But the art lasts only a few moments before it's replaced by the next amazing image.

The word kaleidoscope comes from Greek words meaning "beautiful form to see." Some are so beautiful and rare that they've become prized as collectable objects, bringing big money in the marketplace: One sold at an auction house in 2000 for over $75,000 [source: Kohler].

Despite what you might have once thought, it's not magic that creates the kaleidoscope's beautiful forms, but rather an assembly of mirrors, angles and ordinary objects working in a very scientific way. On the next page, we'll explore the mystery behind those mirrors and beautiful forms, and we'll see why there's really no mystery at all. In fact, before long, you could be creating a kaleidoscope yourself, to amaze and delight your friends.